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266             A SEARCH IN SECRET EGYPT
too. We turned away from the fertile vegetation of the flat Nile land and struck off at a tangent to the river, travelling towards a point where the Theban hills met. We met the usual groups of white-robed men and black-robed women on the road, We passed a typical village of mud huts, a few low, whitewashed houses, a miniature minaret set on a tiny white cupola'd mosque and the inevitable grove of palm trees planted for the sake of their pleasant shade.
I halted near the village well to let the thirsty donkey and its human passenger have a drink. The animal dipped its nose into a strange trough—no less a thing than a broken stone sarcophagus that once may have harboured a Pharaoh I
We moved on and did not stop for the half-destroyed temples of Kurna, nor the excavated mortuary tombs of the Theban nobles at Abd-el-Kurna, nor even the remarkable necropolis of Dira Abun Naga.
I wanted to make my way to the desolate little valley leading to the heights before the blazing sun was upon us. We had set out at dawn and it was not an hour too soon in this summer month. For I knew that on those rock-strewn heights every degree of temperature would be doubled, and the sun's rays thrown back and reflected anew upon me.
Bit by bit we moved westwards along the ancient road and then circled round to reach the foot of the hills, where the ground was strewn with boulders of every shape. Here we entered the first narrow defile.
At last the slow-plodding donkey, treading the dry, sandy, rock-bordered road, brought me to the entrance of the famous Valley where once-powerful Pharaohs had been carried when they lay huddled in death's grip and their earthly pomp had jreached its inescapable end.
The ragged pink cliffs which stood up like sentinels on the right and left to guard the way in, looked well against the cobalt blue sky when I ga2ed up at them. All along the gorge stretched the high silhouette of the ridge. The heights reflected the downbeating glaring white light while the debris upon the ground reflected the intense heat. Hemmed in on both sides by precipitous limestone walls, its complete isolation and utter lack of living green growth showed how extraordinarily suitable the place was for the melancholy purpose to which it had been appropriated—the hiding of the mummies of the kings of Egypt. On the other side slept the nobles and high priests.